By MADDY VITALE, OCNJDaily
Thriving, bustling, as if it were Fourth of July weekend, these are just some of the ways downtown and Boardwalk merchants are describing the start of the shoulder season in Ocean City.
“Shoulder season this fall is identical to our summer peak season, possibly even more active. Asbury Avenue has been bustling,” said Katie Miccarelli, head of brand development for Cruise Control Gear, an active wear shop in Stainton’s Gallery of Shops. “It’s as if Fourth of July weekend poured over into September.”
Like other local merchants, sisters Candice Kolins and Kristen Vogelbacher, who co-own Cruise Control Gear, said that they are so appreciative for a community that supports small businesses.
COVID-19 shuttered businesses throughout the country. In downtown Asbury Avenue only a few of the businesses were considered essential and allowed to remain open. While merchants were able to make up some of the losses through online shopping sales, it was difficult, some said.
Caitlin Quirk, vice president of the Downtown Merchants Association and owner of Bowfish Kids, located on Asbury Avenue, noted that August and through the pandemic beginning in March, her children’s store was down. But September made up for it.
“I feel so thankful,” she stressed.
Collectively, downtown merchants are working together on creative ways to increase sales and offer more to the consumer.
“This is giving the downtown so much energy going into the holiday season. We are seeing people want to shop small. People want to support the small businesses,” Quirk said. “The downtown is working extremely hard. We are open. We are ready for business and we are safe. People have the confidence to shop and they are having a great shopping experience.”
Councilman Jody Levchuk, co-owner of the Jilly’s stores on the Boardwalk with his brother Randy, said during the Sept. 24 Council meeting that businesses have been “thriving” this month and people are adhering strictly to the CDC safety guidelines amid COVID-19.
“Consumer confidence, I think right now is skyrocketing,” Levchuk pointed out.
He noted that people are doing well in Ocean City wearing masks and social distancing.
Shoppers will get to browse merchant table sales beginning this Saturday and extending through the first couple of weekends in October.
Like Levchuk, Councilwoman Karen Bergman said that in her full-time job as head of catering at the historic Flanders Hotel, she is seeing a robust start to the second season.
“It has been a strong fall season,” Bergman said. “We sold out last Saturday night. Ocean City is a tradition for tourists. It has been really a good shoulder season for us at the Flanders. We extended our summer specials through Columbus Day weekend. The weather has been really nice. Kids are not in school full time and people are taking advantage of low prices this season. And everything is still open.”
And she said the biggest reason, in her mind, why people are flocking to the resort is, “People want to start living their life and enjoying the shore again.”
While the downtown and Boardwalk businesses are making up for some of the losses over the pandemic shutdown, Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, explained the entire community is getting an economic boost.
Residents and visitors are taking advantage of all the resort has to offer in a time when many children are learning remotely, and parents are working from home, Gillian said.
“We have had a nice start to our second season. Fall is a beautiful time to visit Ocean City. The weather is comfortable and our beaches, Boardwalk and downtown provide a safe, clean environment to enjoy the outdoors. There is always something fun to do,” Gillian said.
She also highlighted some of the other features that draw throngs of vacationers and day-trippers to the resort during the shoulder season.
“Our rides and attractions are still open, our restaurants have wonderful offers, and you will always find something new while shopping at our small businesses,” she remarked.
Gillian continued, “There are so many opportunities to enjoy Ocean City and we are happy to see our second homeowners staying longer. Whether you are riding bikes, strolling the Boardwalk, shopping downtown, enjoying the beach and back-bay activities, or simply enjoying nature, there is no place that offers more than Ocean City.